Google’s Gmail phone service – reported to be in beta stage yesterday – has gone live, offering Skype-style voice and video calling.
The service is activated out of the Gmail inbox, and offers free calls to North America until the year-end, Google software engineer Robin Schriebman said in a blog.
Calls to both fixed and mobile numbers in key Asian destinations China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore are 2 US cents (€0.01) a minute. Calls to India are charged at 6 cents a minute.
The new service is not Google’s first IP voice service – it already offers Google Voice – but it is the first which enables calls to telephones.
However, it is unlikely to impact fixed or mobile telcos, who already offer cut-price IDD charges.
As analyst Steve Clement of Pacific Crest told Reuters, “The type of person who would use a service like that isn't the type of customer who still has a landline.”
By coincidence or not, the Gmail voice service hits the market just as Skype is preparing for an IPO.
Skype, which has 560 million registered users of whom 8.1 million are fee-paying, is the world’s largest carrier of international voice minutes.
It posted earnings of $13.2 million in the first half of 2010 on revenue of $406 million, and hopes to raise $100 million from its IPO.
Yet while Gmail phone service is not a major threat to telecom, it is one more segment in which telcos find themselves competing against the search heavyweight.
From bandwidth to mobile advertising to mobile apps, Google clearly finds the telecom business irresistible. Operators lost for a strategy could do worse than copy Google.
For the rest: watch Google as closely as you watch your own business.